China must cancel new coal plants to meet climate goals: Study

Chinese government researchers, among others, said Beijing is capable of phasing out coal to meet 2050 targets.

INNER MONGOLIA, CHINA - NOVEMBER 04: Smoke billows from a large steel plant as a Chinese labourer works at an unauthorized steel factory, foreground, on November 4, 2016 in Inner Mongolia, China. To m
Coal-fired energy currently accounts for about 60 percent of the country's total installed power generation capacity [File: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images]

China must end the construction of all new coal-fired power plants to meet long-term climate goals in the most economically feasible manner, according to a study coauthored by a government-backed research institute.

China’s energy strategy over the next 10 years is under close scrutiny as it aims to bring climate-warming carbon emissions to a peak by 2030 and fulfil a pledge made as part of the 2015 Paris agreement.

But with economic growth at its slowest pace in nearly 30 years, Beijing has continued to approve new coal-fired plants, raising fears the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gas is backtracking on its commitments.

Beijing is capable of phasing out coal to help meet a global target to keep temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050, but only if it embarks on a “structured and sustainable” closure strategy to minimise the economic effects, according to the study by Chinese government researchers and the University of Maryland Center for Global Sustainability published on Monday.

The report, which evaluated more than 1,000 existing coal-fired power plants, said China must first end new construction and then rapidly close older and inefficient plants. As much as 112 gigawatts (GW) of electricity production does not meet environmental standards and could be shut down immediately, it said.

China currently has more than 1,000GW of coal-fired power, accounting for about 60 percent of the country’s total installed generation capacity.

“Well-designed policies can help lower the cost of coal-power deep decarbonisation,” said Jiang Kejun, a research professor with the Chinese government-backed Energy Research Institute, one of the report’s authors.

China should also change the role of coal-fired power in its energy system. By reducing the total operating hours of each plant, China could make coal-fired power a “peak load” supplier during periods of high electricity consumption, rather than the main “baseload” power source.

Beijing promised last year to show the “highest possible ambition” when drawing up new climate pledges for the coming decade, but it has built 42.9GW of new coal-fired power capacity since the start of 2018, with another 121GW under construction.

According to a research institute run by the State Grid Corp, China will still need 1,250GW to 1,400GW of coal-fired power over the long term to guarantee stable electricity supplies.

Source: Reuters